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PORSON'S READING. -HIS FAVOURITE AUTHORS, IN GREEK AND IN
LATIN. HIS ESTIMATE OF MODERN GREEK AND LATIN POETRY.-HIS
PORSON'S reading extended to all kinds of books in Greek, Latin, French, and English, beyond which tongues he seems to have attempted few or no linguistic conquests. These are the four languages which he intimates that he can speak in the macaronic doggrel entitled Oracula Echûs de Bello et Statu Nationis, printed in Beloe's "Sexagenarian." His favourite authors in Greek were the tragic poets and Aristophanes, and perhaps, next to these, Athenæus. He was fond of reading the Greek physicians, one of whose folios, especially Galen's, he sometimes put under his pillow at night; not, as he used to observe, because he expected medicinal virtue from it, but because his asthma required that his head should be kept high. Of Thucydides he confessed, according to Mr. Maltby, that he knew comparatively little, and that, when he read him, he was obliged to mark with a pencil, in almost.
* Vol i. p. 249.
† Short Account of Porson, p. 11.
every page, passages which he did not understand. Being once asked whether he had read all Plutarch, he replied, "He is too much for me." To Plato he seems to have given great attention, and sent Thomas Taylor, when he was employed about his translation, several corrections of the Greek text, which Taylor, from his superficial acquaintance with the Greek language, either undervalued, or knew not how to use.* As to Aristophanes, Dr. Burney said that no man had ever understood him so well at thirty years of age as Porson.† Lucian, though his matter might have been thought attractive to Porson, he appears to have read but little, disliking his Greek as not being of the golden age.
On Athenæus he bestowed such critical care that the editors of his Adversaria affirm that more errors were removed from the text by the single hand of Porson than by the whole series of critics that preceded him.‡
Every scholar knows," says the reviewer of his Adversaria in the "Monthly Review,"§ "the miserably corrupt state in which so many valuable fragments of the Greek dramatic writers have been preserved to us in the text of Athenæus; and we also know how greatly the learning and industry of Casaubon have contributed to illustrate the meaning of the author and improve the text, though still leaving innumerable passages in utter obscurity, and frequently confounding the verses of the poets with the prose text in which they are quoted. Infinite as are the merits of Casaubon in illustrating things, it must be acknowledged that, in
Rogers's Table Talk, "Porsoniana," p. 327.
† Barker's Literary Anecdotes, vol. ii. p. 188. Præf. in Adversar. p. xiii.
§ Dec. 1817, p. 426.
the less highly valuable, but not unimportant department of arranging words and syllables, he was not, and, from the state of Greek literature in the age in which he lived, he could not, be always equally successful; nor has the late German editor (Schweighauser) succeeded much better in the task. It was reserved for the accurate and accomplished scholar, whose lucubrations are now before us, to pour a flood of light on the almost impenetrable obscurities of a text so often corrupt in itself, and sometimes still more vitiated by the attempts of preceding commentators to improve it. By the peculiar penetration of his mind, the accuracy of his ear, and the felicity of his conjectures, we find verse detected in its latent prosaic garb, and prose degraded from its poetic stilts; order rising from confusion; and metre and harmony resulting from intricate and apparently hopeless corruption." Porson had meditated an entire edition of Athenæus*, but the project, like many of his other designs, was doomed not to be accomplished.
Of the Latin authors, it is not apparent in which he delighted most, unless it were Cicero, whose Tusculan Disputations he sometimes quoted, especially the sentiment of Epicharmus from the first book,
"Emori nolo, sed me esse mortuum nihil æstimo."
Nor did he forget to couple with it Juvenal's lines,
"Esse aliquos manes, et subterranea regna,
Et contum, et Stygio ranas in gurgite nigras,
* Adversaria, pp. 83-87.
HIS CRITICAL OPINIONS.
Atque una transire vadum tot millia cymbâ,
Of all the Latin dictionaries, extant in his time, he gave the preference to Gesner's Thesaurus. As to Greek Lexicons, he set a high value on that of Scapula, which he recommended a gentleman, who wished to commence Greek at the age of forty, and asked him what books he should use, to read through from the first page to the last.* He valued the Geneva edition most, and said that there were words in it not to be found in Stephens's Thesaurus.†
For all modern Latin and Greek poetry he expressed supreme contempt, and said of the Musa Etonenses, when the publication came out, that it was "all trash, fit only to be put behind the fire." This judgment he passed as a utilitarian, considering that it added nothing to the stock of human knowledge, presenting only wellknown thoughts in a garb emulating that of antiquity.
In French he read a great number of books, and said that if he had a son, he would "endeavour to make him familiar with French and English authors rather than with the classics, as Greek and Latin are only luxuries."I
Many English authors he had read with very great attention. Swift was a great favourite with him. He could repeat large quantities of Swift's verses, and pointed out a remarkable correspondence of a passage in the "Tale of a Tub," which he was very fond of
Rogers's Table Talk, "Porsoniana," p. 329. † Kidd, Tracts, p. 403.
Rogers's Table Talk, "Porsoniana," p. 329.
reading, with another in "Gulliver's Travels;" a correspondence which none of Swift's critics had noticed. In the Introduction to the "Tale of a Tub," it is said, "Fourscore and eleven pamphlets have I writ under three reigns, and for the service of six and thirty factions." In "Gulliver's Travels," not far from the beginning, it is said, "On each side of the gate was a small window not above six inches from the ground; into that on the left side the king's smiths conveyed fourscore and eleven chains, like those that hang to a lady's watch in Europe, and almost as large, which were locked to my left leg with six and thirty padlocks." "From the curious coincidence of the numbers in these two passages," says Dobree, "Professor Porson inferred that both were written by the same person, that is, that Swift was the author of the Tale of a Tub.' *
He was very fond of repeating a defence of a passage of Boyle against Bentley, which Bentley had charged with a ludicrous mistake, when it contained none:
"To show Stobæus's approbation of Phalaris's Epistles," says Bentley †, "I had observed that he quoted three of them, under the title of Phalaris. The gentleman adds one more; and I should thank him for his liberality, had not any one of those three I mentioned been sufficient for my purpose; but where he says, 'It is Tit. 218, and again in the collection of Antonius and Maximus, and that overlooked it,' for that I must beg his pardon; for I could hardly overlook the 218th title of Stobæus, when there are but 121 in all. It is not title 218th but page 218th; and not of Stobæus, but of Antonius that is printed at the end of him; but the title of Stobæus, that the Examiner would cite, is 84. How far the assistant that consulted books
† Dissert. on Phalaris, p. 15.
Kidd, Tracts, p. 316.